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Local veterans honored at county fair

Riley Mason, 6, of Woodstock, a student at Pollywog Place, leads a group of soldiers down the fairground track Thursday morning during the start of the Veterans Tribute Day program at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — Attendees of the Shenandoah County Fair honored the area’s veterans on Thursday morning.

The annual tribute recognized veterans from all wars, dating back to the American Revolution. Wade Zirkle, a former lieutenant in United States Marine Corps., said that he enjoys working as the master of ceremonies for this event.

“It’s incredibly special,” Zirkle said. “To see all of the area’s veterans in one place is really magical and special.”

The ceremony’s guest speaker, Sgt. Maj. Richard Van Norton Jr., recognized all veterans, from the single enlistment veterans who make up the overwhelming majority of the people who have served in the U.S. military to the commissioned officers who served as leaders in the military.

“It’s important to recognize all members of the service,” Van Norton said.

Navy veteran Roy Wiles, 78, of Fort Valley, stands during the playing of the National Anthem. Rich Cooley/Daily

Van Norton who served over 30 years in the U.S. Marines Corps. and continues to speak at events like this across the country, said that the veterans in attendance are part of an elite group of citizens.

“We are a very small segment of our society,” he said. “A proud minority of every race and ethnic group, a wide array of religious backgrounds or none at all, the rich and the poor, the big city guy or the down-home country girl.”

Van Norton also recognized the people in attendance who aren’t necessarily veterans, but family members and friends of people who have served in the armed forces.

“We are all patriots in one sense or another,” he said.

Van Norton noted that, while the ceremony recognizes veterans, it’s also a chance to provide help for those who need it.

Dennis Biller, 68, of Mount Jackson, sits with his granddaughter Annalee Sims, 4, of Forestville, during the program. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It means a lot to the veterans,” he said. “To see all of these organizations come out and help out the veterans is really special to see.”

Organizers also see the event as a chance to help educate area youth about how important the U.S. military is. Ray Powell, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army who has organized the event for nine years, announced that 11 scholarships were given out over the past year to local high school and middle school students who wrote to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion about a variety of topics, ranging from their appreciation to their country to their association with family members who served in the armed forces.

“It shows that the next generation does appreciate the freedoms we have in the United States,” Powell said.

The fair continues to run through Saturday.

Correction: The article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Sgt. Maj. Richard Van Norton Jr.’s last name.

Retired U.S. Marine Sgt. Major Richard Van Norton Jr. speaks during the Veterans Tribute Day program at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds on Thursday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah County joint high school bands play patriotic music during the Veterans Tribute Day program. Rich Cooley/Daily